Old cars: new business ethos. Paul Lawrence talks to the VSCC’s Julian Ghosh
Contemporary motor racing in Britain is in a degree of crisis. Falling grids, rising circuit-hire costs and low spectator numbers are combining to make the running of profitable race meetings an ever-harder task.
Yet, in its own particular sphere, the Vintage Sports Car Club is bucking the trend. Excellent entry levels and race meetings with genuine spectator appeal are allowing the club to plan its racing programme with growing confidence.
“You don’t get much change out of £27,000 for running a typical meeting, with circuit hire fees, medical cover, scrutineers and so on,” says VSCC commercial director Julian Ghosh. “If you can’t get money from the spectator gate, you really are struggling.”
Increasingly, however, the club is able to use the unique appeal of vintage racing when negotiating rates with circuit owners. Jonathan Palmer, boss of MotorSport Vision and owner of four tracks, is one of the people taking notice.
“We think the VSCC is worthy of our investment,” says Palmer. “We looked to see which clubs, with promotion, can generate a crowd and we’ve identified the VSCC as having tremendous potential.”
He comes from another generation of racing, but Palmer realises that, with investment in promotion, a VSCC event can pull in more customers than a round of the British Touring Car Championship. Little wonder, then, that he bothered to helicopter in to Oulton Park recently to greet the media as the Hawthorn Trophies Meeting for the Cheshire track was unveiled.
That said, Ghosh acknowledges that adopting a highly commercial approach has required some sea changes within the VSCC. “When I became a director about 15 years ago, I was quite concerned that the club was on the wane,” he says. “We hadn’t addressed the question of the club’s profile in the world of motor racing: things like the Goodwood Festival of Speed stole our thunder. But we are now in a stronger position than ever. We are able to deal with the business of hiring circuits on a very professional level now.”
Ghosh knows that he walks a knife-edge as he balances commercial pressures with the wishes of the club’s members. “It’s become a very commercially-orientated business. Of course, the members take a very different view and we like to make sure, from their point of view, that it doesn’t change at all,” says Ghosh. “It’s the most important essence of any business; you’ve got to maintain your strengths, and our core strength is the ethos of the club.”
While the return to Oulton Park on May 28 is the new event on the 2005 racing programme, September’s See Red at Donington Park is another major commitment and an opportunity to put VSCC racing in front of a fresh audience.
“We use Formula One as an obvious carrot at Donington,” explains Ghosh. “The average man in the street has heard of Formula One and will come along. I don’t think they’re so narrow-minded as to walk past an ERA or a Maserati 250F and not be interested.”
The truth of the matter is that the club’s bigger race meetings at Silverstone and Donington help support the less profitable events at Cadwell Park and Mallory Park. “We’re running five race meetings this year, and I think that it would be foolish to do any more,” says Ghosh. “Giving the members the racing they enjoy, including the smaller meetings, is important.”
Right now, the VSCC’s race programme is doing well. But Ghosh isn’t about to let the club rest on its laurels: “The VSCC must be kept relevant. It might be dealing with an out-of-date commodity, but we have to fit in with the modern world.”